Professor Jean Venables CBE FREng is the Director, Venables Consultancy.
“I have had the satisfaction of improving the lives of many people, for example by reducing their flood risk, improving the quality of water in rivers, and reducing ill health by improving sewers and sewage treatment works.”
How would you describe your current role to someone who knows nothing about engineering?
I am a consultant chartered civil engineer who specialises in flood risk management, and a Visiting Professor in the Faculty of Engineering, Environment and Computing at Coventry University. I also volunteer for the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Academy, the Environment Agency, and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.
Why did you choose to go into engineering?
I wanted to apply my maths and physics to practical projects.
Please describe your first job.
My final year at university (at Imperial College London) included a course on public health engineering, which fascinated me. My first job after graduation was with the Department of Public Health Engineering of (what was then) the Greater London Council, dealing with rivers, sewers and waste disposal.
What do you like most about being an engineer?
During my over 50-year career, I have had the satisfaction of improving the lives of many people, for example by reducing their flood risk, improving the quality of water in rivers, and reducing ill health by improving sewers and sewage treatment works.
Tell us about an achievement that you are most proud of.
My long-term involvement and influence in flood risk management of the River Thames. As a young engineer, I worked on the Thames Barrier project. I was later a member and then chair of the Thames Regional Flood Defence Committee, which funded the Thames tidal defences. Later, I was instrumental in getting the Thames Estuary 2100 project underway, looking at, and then producing a plan for flood risk management in the Thames estuary for the next 100 years.
How has being a woman in engineering changed since you started working in the profession?
I was the only woman who graduated in civil engineering at Imperial College in 1969, and then became only the 12th woman ever to become a chartered civil engineer in 1975. Having been the first woman to do many roles including chairing the Thames Regional Flood Defence Committee, I became the first woman President of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 2008. I am pleased to say that the proportion of women in engineering is now much higher, which is most encouraging, and I feel sure it will continue to rise.
What would you say to someone considering a career in engineering?
It will be a most challenging, varied and satisfying career, giving many opportunities for a variety of roles. It is also perfectly possible to combine it with not only long-term married life but also with having a family.
This year’s IWD theme is ‘Balance for Better’. How can engineers contribute to a gender-balanced world?
It is important that engineers work in diverse teams, where all constructive opinions and ideas are welcome. The resulting projects and policies will contribute to a better world for all.
This profile was created for International Women’s Day in March 2019. All information was correct at time of publication